Greg Howley wanted to know what shows are filling up my DVR, so I thought I'd spill my digital, MPEG-encoded guts.
- The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (Comedy Central) It's probably not fair to lump these two together, but thanks to the technical foibles of DirecTV and/or Comedy Central, that's the way I record them. Both are consistently funny, but the big laughs recently have come from The Colbert Report. When a guest remarked that Stephen clearly knew his Sunday school, Colbert quickly shot back, "I teach Sunday school, motherf***er." The absolute wrongness of the statement had Laura and me nearly doubled over with laughter.
- Top Gear (BBC America) This is a show I wish I'd been watching for the past four (five? nine?) seasons. It's a car show that you don't have to be a car guy to like. Part Motor Trend, part Monty Python, part Junkyard Wars, all awesome. The most recent episode I watched featured one of the hosts, Richard Hammond, pitting a Bugatti Veyron against a Eurofighter Typhoon in a two-mile race. While Hammond drove the Bugatti from one end of a runway to the other and back, the fighter pilot took off, climbed a mile vertically, turned around and raced back to the finish line. Hammond described it as "the best race ever", and it certainly made for entertaining television.
- The Spectacular Spider-Man (Kids' WB) This just premiered last week, and I like what I see so far. As a Spider-Man fan, it's good to see old villains like The Enforcers, The Vulture and Electro re-imagined. Some might call it an assault on their precious childhood memories, but The Vulture's original costume was a cross between Cruella de Ville and Kermit the Frog, Electro had a giant electric starfish on his face, and The Enforcers (Montana, Fancy Dan and Ox) were rodeo hands.1 The first two episodes were very satisfying, and viewers familiar with the wall-crawler will quickly pick up on the fact that nearly everyone Peter Parker knows will ultimately become a villain. Apart from the overtly villainous characters in the hour-long premiere—plus The Kingpin, operating in the shadows and voiced by Keith David, if I'm not mistaken—Pete encounters Norman Osborn (who will eventually become The Green Goblin), Harry Osborn (ditto), Eddie Brock (destined to merge with an alien symbiote and become Venom) and Dr. Curt Connors (who, injecting himself with experimental reptilian goo, is already well on his way to becoming The Lizard).
- Transformers Animated (Cartoon Network) Here's where I turn hypocrite, because this new version of the Transformers is an assault on my childhood. Optimus Prime is (sometimes) a fire engine! And he has a mouth! You should know how I feel about Optimus Prime having a mouth.2 Ratchet, the Autobots' medic, has had a personality overhaul from the old comic book days, and in a recent episode, Soundwave, the coolest of the evil Decepticons3 was reduced to a bass-thumping, head-spinning, laser light-show, the kind used by wedding DJs or low rent discothéques. The Autobots hang around with Sari Sumdac, a young girl who has a key imbued with the essence of the Allspark. Sari uses the key to fix the Autobots after they scrap with the Decepticons, or to animate her father's robotic creations (such as the Dinobots4 and the aforementioned Soundwave, who was built to Megatron's specifications. Megatron, by the way, exists (for the nonce) only as a severed head, hidden away in Dr. Isaac Sumdac's laboratory until he can gather his Decepticon minions and build himself a new body. Performed by Corey Burton, the Decepticon leader has the best non-guest star voice in the series.
- Law & Order (NBC) Voted "Most Likely to Put Laura to Sleep", the original Law & Order is actually quite entertaining (though I do miss Jerry Orbach). Alas, my poor wife can't seem to make it all the way through an episode of the police/courtroom drama without drifting off into dreamland,5 which usually means that I see at least parts of each episode twice or more. Semi-interesting tidbit/filler: When Fred Thompson announced that he would consider exploring whether or not to announce his intention to possibly make a decision regarding a potential bid for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination, his character, Arthur Branch, disappeared from the show and Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) became the District Attorney. Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) stepped in as Executive Assistant District Attorney (thank you, Wikipedia) and it took me a half dozen episodes to realize that Roache played Bruce Wayne's father, Thomas Wayne, in Batman Begins.
- Without A Trace (CBS) One of the most depressing shows I've ever watched, Without A Trace chronicles an FBI missing persons unit as they attempt to locate, yes, a missing person. They succeed more often than they fail, but when they fail, it's usually because the missing person is also a dead person.
- CSI (CBS) Oh, dear. I don't know that this is actually set to record. Excuse me while I correct that so we can get our weekly dose of forensic science and an entirely unrealistic expectation as to what can be done with a computer and some grainy black-and-white surveillance camera footage.
- Monk (USA) The second best detective show on USA (the best is the next bullet item, so just hold your horses) has the absolute worst theme song of any show currently produced for television.6 After eleven and a half years of marriage, Laura's hatred for Randy Newman songs has leached into me like so much hexavelent chromium into groundwater. Theme song aside, the obsessive-compulsive detective portrayed by Tony Shalhoub is very amusing to watch, but I can't look at Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) without thinking about the lotion, the basket, and getting the hose again.
- Psych (USA) I probably enjoy this show more than Laura does, but I'm still putting it on her list. The non-stop barrage of (sometimes rather obscure) pop culture references from my childhood is almost as entertaining as the concept of the show: über-observant slacker makes a living as a psychic, helping the police solve all sorts of strange homicides.
- MI-5 (BBC America) While watching Top Gear last week, we saw several advertisements for the new season of MI-5 (né Spooks) on BBC America. Laura thought it looked interesting, so I added it to the list. The season premiere was last night, but we have yet to watch it.
- Sesame Street (PBS) Children's television simply doesn't get more old school than Sesame Street. The show has certainly changed since I last watched it with any regularity, but I think I miss Kermit the Frog's fast-breaking news stories from fairy tales and fables the most. The story of why Kermit no longer appears on the show (except in the occasional older bit, such as "Do the Rubber Duck") is a bit convoluted, but I'm sure if Jim Henson were still around "green frog" (as Elmo used to call him) would still have his Sesame Street press credentials.
- Max and Ruby (Nickelodeon/Noggin) Ruby is a seven-year-old bunny. Max is her younger brother. Where are their parents? Who can say? Grandma shows up from time to time (often for her own birthday party; bunnies must age fast) and there are plenty of Bunny Scouts around, but mostly it's Max getting in Ruby's way somehow. This show annoyed me at first, but has really grown on me.
- Blue's Clues (Nickelodeon/Noggin) We prefer Steve to Joe, thank you very much. Steve actually drew in his handy, dandy notebook, whereas Joe's notebook is entirely animated. Sometimes, after I've found all three paw prints, I sit down in my Thinking Chair and think, think, thiiii-ink...about where to hide Joe's body. We will not discuss the travesty that is Blue's Room.
- The Backyardigans (Nickelodeon/Noggin) Quite possibly my favorite of the bunch, The Backyardigans features the adventures of Tyrone, Uniqua, Pablo, Tasha and Austin as they create imaginary worlds in their backyards. Each episode features several songs (showcasing a particular musical style), many of which are very clever and catchy, some of which are earworms, getting into my head for hours (or even days) at a time. "Racing Day" and "Mystery Lifeguard" both fall into this latter category.
- Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! (Nickelodeon/Noggin) Another of my favorites has become one of Kyle's favorites, too, much to Laura's dismay. Wubbzy is a frenetic, furry, fun-loving critter (voiced by Grey DeLisle, who also voiced The Wasp in the recent Ultimate Avengers animated movies) who loves his kickety-kickball. Widget (Lara Jill Miller, who played Sam on Gimme A Break!) is Wubbzy's bunny(like) industrious inventor friend, always building some fantastic machine ("The Sun-Blocker 3000!") that doesn't quite work as she expected. Walden (voiced by the incredible Carlos Alazraqui, who plays Deputy Garcia on Reno 911! and was the voice of the Taco Bell chihuahua as well as Rocko on Rocko's Modern Life) "is their friend, he's really smart; he knows about science and books and art". He's also the most level-headed of the three, though he has been known to cut loose from time to time. The show is Flash-animated and has an artistic style that appeals to me for some reason. I also like the music.
- Wonder Pets! (Nickelodeon/Noggin) If there's a show I wish Kyle would just suddenly decide to stop liking, it's Wonder Pets! I've already discussed my feelings about the show in some detail, so there's really no need to get into it now.
- Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go! (Nickelodeon/Noggin) These two get lumped together because they're cousins and—like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report—the latter is a spin-off of the former. I'm not sure which Latin American country these two precocious youths live in, but they both have an unusual rapport with animals and an amazing satchel: Dora's backpack is actually a Bag of Holding, while Diego's Rescue Pack ("¡Al rescate!") has some sort of polymorph spell cast upon it.
Most of these were recorded during our free Showtime/The Movie Channel weekend. That I stooped to recording Cyborg 2 should give you an idea about the quality of fare offered on Showtime and The Movie Channel. Suicide Kings and The Prophecy were played back-to-back on IFC during a recent Christopher Walken mini-marathon.
- Suicide Kings
- The Prophecy
- The Man Who Cried
- Employee of the Month
- Cyborg 2
- The Man Who Fell to Earth
- The Descent
- The World's Fastest Indian
Fresh from the free Showtime weekend, DirecTV is dishing up another four days of premium channel goodness starting on Thursday, 20 March. This time it's HBO and CineMAX, and a quick glance at the schedule for Thursday and early Friday reveals several movies that I'd like to see:
- John Adams
- Notes on a Scandal
- The Last King of Scotland
- The Good Shepherd
- Okay, they still are, but The Vulture and Electro have both gotten a much-needed makeover [↩]
- To paraphrase B.A. Baracus: Prime don't have no mouth, Hannibal! [↩]
- I should point out that classic Soundwave is cool in robot mode. Alas, he transforms into a boombox from which a number of transforming cassette tapes—including Ravage, Laserbeak and Ratbat, who turn into a panther, a condor and a bat, respectively—are launched. This is decidedly not cool. [↩]
- Okay, a word about the Dinobots: who are these guys supposed to be fooling? They transform from giant robots to giant dinosaurs! Dinosaurs that look like giant robots! Props to Transformers Animated for actually creating a semi-feasible plot around their introduction (as animatronic dino-beasties in a theme park). [↩]
- Sam Waterston's voice is like warm milk to her, I guess. To me, he sounds forever on the hormonal rollercoaster that is the onset of puberty. [↩]
- Worst theme song ever? Firefly. Oh yeah, I went there. Bring it, browncoats! [↩]